My 2019 Resolution: Do More Things That Don’t Make Any Money

I’ve spent quite a while ramping up my freelance work: for the first year, it was an hour or two a week, then a bump to 4–5 hours a week, then a consistent 10 hours a week of extra work — which made me wonder if I could quit my job and go full-time. I thought the freedom of a freelance career sounded inviting, and with a day job that includes a hefty driving commute, I added more free time and lower environmental impact to my list of reasons to quit.

I did eventually leave the job, but the messy months between “maybe freelancing full time could work” and “actually saying goodbye to my day job” created a few bad habits — and helped me generate my 2019 New Year’s Resolution.

Life got truly hectic as I scaled up freelancing without being able to scale back the day job, and fitting in everyday life things got very difficult: time with friends, cleaning the house, and exercise, for instance. To try to restore some kind of financial balance to my life — it didn’t work, hence the upcoming resolution — I began trying to justify to myself that, every time I did an everyday-life-thing, it was somehow making me money.

Here’s what happened. As I ramped up my freelance career, I set myself financial goals: if I could complete a certain dollar amount of freelance work on a Saturday, for instance, I called myself a success. I might aim for $250 in one day if I had a lot of work available, or more like $150 or $200 if I just wanted to clear out some final projects. Regardless, I found myself getting to the end of the day with lots of work done and very little life stuff done. I knew that that life also needed space in my day, but thinking about missing my freelancing income goal raised my blood pressure.

So, rather than adjusting my freelance goals (the reasonable course of action), I tried to “monetize” my everyday-life-things. First, I tried to give myself “freelance credit” for cleaning the house, making meals at home, or other important activities. If I was feeling uninspired in my work, I’d tell myself that I could count a top-to-bottom cleaning of the kitchen (including loading the dishwasher, my least favorite chore), for $15 of my daily total. Yes, I couldn’t pay myself that money, but it at least allowed me to acknowledge that this work had value.

I had other ways of “valuing” my time spent on daily life. I tried to calculate what I saved by going grocery shopping rather than eating out, and counted the difference as “earnings” (about $3-$4 per meal compared to fast food, and more like $10 per meal compared to a sit-down local restaurant). I also tried to give myself credit for DIY projects; this often backfired when I realized that, say, replacing the air filter in my car would cost me exactly $1 more at the mechanic than if I bought it myself and installed it. However, there were plenty of regular life things — hanging out with friends, for example — that I couldn’t figure out how to fake-monetize, so they frequently fell off the to-do list. 

Are you starting to see how much fun I’ve been lately?

As is obvious to most people who see this, rather than accepting that I had set an unachievable work goal, I tried to twist everything in my life to help me achieve that goal. Honestly, thinking about my life in terms of work makes me more comfortable: work has always been a place where I knew what was expected of me, for how long. It’s a crutch, though, and one that isn’t realistic; I need to know how to value things without just looking at the costs and pay-outs — especially now that I have quit the day job and am setting my own work hours (which could easily end up being all the hours).

2019 seems like a good time to start a new resolution: I want to start devoting time to things that don’t make me money, not even a little. I’ve gone overboard in the money-earning department, partly because of the goal of transitioning smoothly into full-time freelance, but mostly out of fear. Fear that things that don’t make me money won’t be worthy

So that’s my resolution: I want to do worthy things, or sometimes unworthy things, that don’t make me money. I want to learn to live without that feeling of putting a price on my time and earning it.

I’ve come up with three main rules:

  • No paid work from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m.: this isn’t a rule that works for everyone, obviously, but it is a good one for me. I’m not good at working late at night, or even marginally early at night. This rule will help me do my best work and put a limit on my workday.
  • Make a to-do list that includes everyday-life-things, not just paid work: I’m trying to make sure that my rampant to-do list habit includes all the things I want to do, not just the ones that add up to a daily earnings target. If they are on the list, I’ll start working them in more, since I love nothing more than checking something off that list.
  • Make variable earning targets: this one is a really big deal. I’m going to try to scale up and down my daily earning target based on how much I need to earn per month balanced against how much life-stuff I want (and need) to do. By giving myself the freedom of saying that some days I don’t have to earn anything at all, I think I’ll start weaning myself off the overwork habit. I hope, at least.

Rule number four might be to accept that it could take a couple of years before I earn as much as a full-time freelancer as I did in my day job — a financial goal that may be driving more of my overwork than I want to admit. I hope finding a balance that keeps me fulfilled and happy and fed will help my career grow at a reasonable pace while also making more time for things that aren’t work.

Laura Marie is a writer and teacher in Ohio. Read more of her work at Messy Mapmaker.

Photo by William Santos on Unsplash.

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